Just like any other (and by “other”, I mean “inferior”) destination, Peru is a country which one should not tread upon whilst carrying with them the improper attitude. The pure traveler is one who takes their destination for more than its trinkets, tan-lines and tandem bicycles. Don’t let the vacation get in the way of the trip. And don’t let the trip get in the way of the experience. For, as we all know, there is NO SUCH THING as a bad experience.
I’ve spent 6 of the last 7 days on buses. I was horribly ill for 2. I danced (badly) for 5. I ate guinea pigs, cow hearts, sheep innards and something called a “Sex Burger” which, contradictory to its rather lurid title, I found to be both monotonous and generally disappointing. I saw the Milky Way and experienced music and family and kinship in ways which I never knew existed. And, through it all, I backpacked. And this was not my first time doing so. In the process of tramping up and down mountains and coasts, I’ve come to several realizations.
1. Peruvians have an interesting way of establishing a national unity. The first way that they do this which comes to mind is with food. People in Peru are spread out between large stretches of land, between stark climates, mountains, plains and valleys. But, wherever you go, you are likely to see signs that say something along the lines of “Comidas Tipicas” (“typical meals”). Don’t expect to find any poached baby quail eggs or watermelon gazpacho as you triumph the rocky cliffs of Ancash. My belief is that this concept of Peruvian comfort foods has been developed as a means of Peruvians demonstrating their warm and hospitable nature to each other across the great chasm that is their country. Anyway, they do what they do really well… like “Seinfeld”. Why change?
2. The other side of this unity is the individuality which is simultaneously exhibited around the nation. Drive all about the many sectors of Lima. Or venture out to the mountains and flatland’s and look out your bus window to the side of the road. You are guaranteed to never find two adjacent matching properties as far as you go. Slight variations in design and color are so consistent that it is impossible to deny the persistence of proud individuality in each and every certified tax-payer in this glorious nation.
3. The completion of the triumvirate platform of Peruvian identity, I believe, resides in hospitality. Now, it’s easy enough to tag hospitality as a combination of free hugs and hot meals but, in this place, it really goes far beyond that. With all of the pompousness, self-righteousness and generally wasteful and careless behavior that “Gringos” have a reputation of exhibiting in places that they don’t understand, it seems like it would be easy for Peruvians to turn an omnipotent cold shoulder to the hecatomb of camera-flashing tourists who pass through this fine earthly abode.
But the reality is that Peruvians consistently attempt to communicate and level with any and all guests in their country (even Chileans). I am consistently asked by people on the street how I like Peru and where I’ve visited here and what I’ve done. Even with the widespread, extremely limited English that teams up with my very juvenile Spanish, we both attempt to speak each others mother tongue as much as possible to establish a common ground. I love this idea. It’s almost like cohesion.